“The Duchess of Malfi” is not a perfect play. The plot jolts and character motivations are incoherent; it is occasionally verbose when it should move like lightning and vice-versa. But if it’s Jacobean tragedy you’re after, pull yourself up to The Duchess’ table and eat your fill. Revel in the revenge, intrigue and gushing blood. And cancel your post-show dinner plans.
Director Christopher Marino and his troop play this piece honestly from moment to moment, making no attempt to apologize for playwright John Webster’s glorious confusions. In Trap Door’s minuscule space, the gore and treachery can’t help but land in the audience’s lap. When you enter be prepared to climb into The Duchess’ bath with her. And her brother.
If you don’t have a Duchess and actors who can fearlessly play her brother Ferdinand and the everyman murderer Bosola, you don’t program this play. From Trap Door’s ensemble come three artists who dissolve into the souls of these brilliantly bizarre people; they turn from comedy to drama, and from earthbound to wraithlike in a preposition. Lyndsay Rose Kane’s Duchess is a princely fortress, delicate lattice one moment, stubborn steel the next. As the hedonistic, fetishistic, incestuous, lycanthropic Ferdinand, Casey Chapman has the beauty and charisma of which mass murders are made. Kevin Cox’s Bosola careens from enthused retaliation to aware despair, stuck in his own melancholy deterioration.
The entire ensemble acquit themselves handsomely. Mike Steele’s Antonio is heart-wounding, J. Keegan Siebken gives a charming, well-spoken Delio, and John Kahara’s Cardinal is flesh-eating. Composer Mark Winston’s work is chilling and lovely. Rachel Levy’s lighting glints and haunts.
This cast is appetizing, porn-ready, sex-on-a-platter. Rachel Sypniewski’s amatory costumes sometimes cover some things. Marino disdains any presentation of the sixteenth century’s emotional repression. Every sentiment is as disrobed as its source. It is a daring choice, not to everyone’s taste. But this piece screams for a choice, and then blind fealty. What a hearty, satanic stew is here cooked. (Aaron Hunt)
Trap Door Theatre, 1655 West Cortland, (773)384-0494, trapdoortheatre.com, $20-$25. Through February 20.